By JOHN MOYLE
Over many years Sydneysiders have seen some extraordinary attempts by developers to grab for public lands, often wholeheartedly assisted by both major political parties.
And in early 2022 we are seeing another audacious attempt by a bunch of billionaires operating as Carsingha Investments to lock up Moore Park for 99 years.
Carsingha is an investment group primarily made up of investment banker Mark Carnegie, JobKeeper fan and Nine News supporter Gerry Harvey, and everyone’s favourite larrikin, John Singleton plus Harvey’s wife, Katie Page, queen of Domayne and all things household.
Also rounding out the group is its recent spokesperson Max Moore-Wilton, better known as “Max the Axe”.
Readers may remember his name from his heading up of Macquarie Bank’s takeover of Sydney Airport Corporation on a 99-year lease that also saw cost increases and staff cuts.
Carsingha has redevelopment plans for the section of Moore Park known as the Entertainment Quarter (EQ) to include a hotel and a 20-storey office tower, as well as gifting Sydneysiders with a new one hectare green space.
“Right now Carsingha have put what is known as an ‘unsolicited proposal’ before the state government,” Greens MLC David Shoebridge said.
“This is a behind-closed-doors process with no public engagement and no open tender process.
“Their current lease ends in April 2036 with a possibility [to] be extended for a further 10 years under that contract.”
The investors paid $80 million for a 30-year lease on the EQ in 2014 and claimed that the site was “tired”.
Carsingha first put forward an unsolicited proposal for the site in 2019 but it has stalled in the second phase.
Since holding the lease there has been a general consensus that the site has been run down or certainly not operating at its potential.
“Despite our best intentions, since the government’s vision in 1995 (when the Entertainment Quarter and Fox Studios were created) the precinct has never lived up to its expectations,” Moore-Wilton told The Urban Developer.
“There is no point in reinvesting or putting lipstick on the pig.”
The only porcine whiff that The Sydney Sentinel is smelling is coming from Carsingha’s unsolicited proposal.
The Sentinel submitted questions to Carsingha which were not answered.
“The proponents of the Carsingha proposal, knowing that the lease is to expire, have paid well beyond the value of the site in the Entertainment Quarter,” Ron Hoenig, Member for Heffron, Labor, told the Alliance for Public Parklands newsletter.
“They also have a keen understanding of the restrictions proposed on the site by the State environmental planning policy, which have been there since the Entertainment Quarter and Fox Studios came into existence.
“I am also clearly aware, as are a variety of stakeholders, that the current leaseholders of the Entertainment Quarter have deliberately run down the site and not sought to redevelop it and are using that as leverage to persuade the government that their proposal is the only way that can generate Carsingha’s unsolicited proposal.”
It comes as no surprise that some in government think that Carsingha’s grab for public parklands is a very good idea.
Minister for Infrastructure, Cities and Active Transport Rob Stokes, appearing at the parliamentary inquiry said, “I think clearly on the basis of the evidence provided this morning by Carsingha, the last thing we want is for this incredible opportunity to sort not not be taken up.
“If a longer lease term can get a better result for the public, then it should be a longer lease.”
Alex Greenwich, independent member for Sydney, thinks differently.
“This is an appalling proposal and what we see here is that Carsingha wants the same sort of treatment that Packer got at Barangaroo,” he told The Sentinel.
“They want to be given public land, basically freehold, and they don’t want to go through any of the open and transparent tender processes, and they want all of the planning approvals to be fast tracked.
“This is the big end of town doing the land grab of what’s set aside as pubic open green space.”
Lying within the boundaries of the City of Sydney Council, any removal of open green space at Moore Park is of major concern to the council.
With the adjacent areas of Redfern, Waterloo and Green Square, up to 90,000 people could be living within the catchment of less than 2 kilometres from Moore Park.
“Ultimately, the parklands within the Estate must remain public and accessible to everyone and the legislation needs to be measured against this over-riding principle,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.
“The pandemic has shown us that parklands have never been more important and with Green Square surrounding Moore Park being the most densely populated area in Australia, we need parklands and we don’t need office towers,” Alex Greenwich said.
The Alliance for Public Parklands is a community based group concerned about the way in which the over-arching body, Greater Sydney Parklands, was established by the NSW Government to oversee five of the major public parks, including Moore Park, in the Greater Sydney area.
“The entire model is flawed and it is our feeling that there is another way because under this model there is no enshrined community involvement in the decision making,” Katey Grusovin, spokesperson, Alliance for Public Parklands said.
“We believe that parks are for people and biodiversity and green open spaces and that they should be above politics.”
“The legislation that deals with the Entertainment Quarter is part of a broader piece of legislation dealing with parklands across Sydney,” David Shoebridge said.
“Right now there a very real concerns that the provisions that protect the public interest in limiting the length of any lease and requiring an open tender process for any redevelopment may not survive.”
Alex Greenwich said: “Both the Coalition government and the Labor opposition supported my amendments which saw lead terms limited and that no unsolicited developments can happen on Greater Sydney Parklands.
“What is really insulting to Sydneysiders is the way in which Carsingha are proposing this as their $2billion gift to Sydney as if it is some sort of charity, when it is a profit making exercise on public land.”
Pressure needs to be brought to all political parties to make sure this insulting attempt to hijack gazetted and historical public space has no chance of going any further.
Contact your local member now and let them know your thoughts on the value of open and green public spaces in our lives.
It’s not often you get a chance to really piss of a billionaire – but here it is.
John Moyle is the associate editor and special writer for the Sydney Sentinel.